A new book from five commandos who were guarding the CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya on the night of Sep. 11, 2012 claims that a U.S. official gave a stand down order that prevented forces from rescuing U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens, who along with three other Americans, died in the attack.
But rather than buttressing long-standing Republican claims that the Obama administration bungled the operation (and later sought to cover it up for political purposes), the revelation highlights how far GOP efforts to tie the president and his closest advisers to the terrorist attack in Benghazi have fallen.
In the book, titled “13 Hours,” five commandos who were guarding the CIA Annex in Benghazi, claim that “they protested repeatedly as the station chief ordered them to wait in their vehicles, fully armed, for 20 minutes while the attack on the diplomatic mission was unfolding less than a mile away,” the New York Times, which received an advance copy of the book, reports. The commandos say “they left the base in defiance of the chief’s continuing order to ‘stand down.’”
The story undermines the conclusions of various government reports — from both the administration and Congress, which found that no such stand down order was given — and even if true, lacks the explosive punch Republicans have promised. The contractors say that the CIA station chief on his own authority and was not operating under orders from anyone in Washington D.C. “He hoped to enlist local Libyan militiamen, and the commandos speculate that he hoped the Libyans could carry out the rescue alone to avoid exposing the C.I.A. base,” the paper claims.
In the days and years following the 2012 attack, however, Republicans and conservative commentators had promised more. They claimed to have uncovered evidence attributing the “stand down” order to President Obama or a rotating cast of advisers:
BILL KRISTOL: “It would have been a presidential decision.” [10/26/2012]
REP. DARREL ISSA: “I have my suspicions, which is Secretary Clinton told Leon [Panetta] to stand down.” [2/17/2014]
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: “[M]ilitary personnel were ready willing and able, and within proximity, but the Pentagon told them they had no authority and to stand down.” [5/7/2013]
RUSH LIMBAUGH: “Doug Ross maintains here that Valerie Jarrett gave the orders to stand down in Benghazi. Valerie Jarrett, who constitutionally is not in the chain of command and cannot do that. And that’s why this, if true, is a bombshell.” [8/6/2013]
Earlier this year, the House Armed Services Committee concluded that U.S. military would have been unable to respond in time to the attacks and a declassified version of the House Intelligence Committee analysis found “no deliberate wrongdoing by the Obama administration.” Both committees are currently Republican-led.
As Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey explained to the Senate in February of 2013, “This is the middle of the night now, these are not aircraft on strip alert.” Then-secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testified that “unfortunately, there was no specific intelligence or indications of an imminent attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi. And frankly, without an adequate warning, there was not enough time given the speed of the attack for armed military assets to respond.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a member of both the House Intelligence Committee and the Benghazi panel, dismissed the new allegations. Members of both the House and Senate “found that our personnel acted heroically and appropriately in trying to secure local assistance and avoid ambush,” Schiff said in a statement. “Nor did we find any evidence that a different course of action would have saved — rather than jeopardized — more lives. To second guess these decisions made in the fog of battle is both unfair to the brave personnel involved and highly irresponsible.”
But that’s not stopping Fox News and other conservative outlets from using the latest revelations to prop up the “stand down” conspiracy. The network is describing the stories in the new book “as a dramatic new turn to what the Obama administration and its allies would like to dismiss as an ‘old story.’” It will host a special featuring interviews with the security contractors interviewed for the book and promises to deliver a “first-hand account of what really happened in Benghazi.” But that truth keeps changing in ways that have Republicans second-guessing the strategy that many thought would lead them to a political victory over the White House.